Sunday, October 19, 2008

Soul-scrubbing Swiss cleanliness + untraditional Zopf bread baking

The Swiss are remarkable for their diligence. As they are descended from mountain folk who had to plan ahead to keep food on the table during the wintry months, hard work is a cultural trait. An off-shoot of this is their obsession with cleanliness and the cleaning task.

Someone is always cleaning something. Every couple of months, we are told to remove our car from the basement garage for a few hours so that cleaners can, well, clean it out. Never mind that it is still quite spotless.

Once every few weeks we need to clear the stuff away from our front door as cleaners come in to vacuum and wash the stairwell, landings and lift in our low-rise apartment building.

We came across this outdoor toilet in the forest next to a meadow. Notice the toilet brush next to it? No, we didn't lift the cover to see if it's like a regular WC with water in it.

One friend, when looking at a flat for rent, asked if the white-tiled floor was easy to clean. The answer was, "Yes, of course." She hadn't counted on how frequently she had to clean it as every single strand of hair that falls can clearly be seen on it.
If you want to make a coffee appointment with a Swiss woman, she probably can't make it this Thursday as she's cleaning her apartment. Friday? Oh, no, she's doing the laundry. If she likes you well enough, she might pencil you in three weeks from now.

Bovine Rambo? A cow with horn guards or growth guides on Zugerberg (mountain).

I, being totally, irrevocably, cleaning challenged, cannot hope to keep up, let alone compete, with these hyper-hygienic folk. So, to immerse myself more in the quaint and interesting Swiss culture, I opted to make Zopf, the braid bread.

Zopf (Braid Bread)


500g Zopf or bread flour
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 packet of dried yeast (7g)
300ml milk, lukewarm
50g softened butter
an eggyolk mixed with a tbs of water for brushing

Mix the yeast with the lukewarm milk in a big bowl. Mix flour with sugar and salt. When milk has bubbled up a bit, add the flour mixture and butter. Mix till you get a maleable lump. Knead for 10 minutes. Leave in the oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap for an hour in a warm place or till doubled in volume.
With floured hands, divide dough into two long ropes. Twist them together, then double up and twist again. Leave to rise again for about 30-40 minutes.
Preheat oven to 210 degrees C. Brush top of braid with egg-yolk mix. Bake on parchment for 30-40 minutes. Bottom should sound kind of hollow when knocked with a knuckle.

I forgot to mix the eggyolk with water, so the 'paint' looks a bit thick and unsightly. I also used a loaf pan to contain the braid, so I wouldn't get pointy ends or funny shaped slices. (Swiss grandpas wouldn't be pleased.)


jesse said...

I don't see anything "unsightly" with the bread. It's perfect! And hmm, a toilet in the middle of the woods... there has got to be a story behind THAT one.

Kak Teh said...

argus, i was there last June and I was so impressed, yes, with the cleanliness and the punctuality. well - after all, they make watches, dont they?

also, i find the swiss to be very friendly. We walked to the bus stop in the mornings - all three of us sisters - all with headscarves - people we met along the way would say hello and good morning - was so impressed.

ok - must go back to do my work - your bread looks yummy!

Tunku Halim said...

Oh Argus I LOVE that toilet so! What a most natural way to do something so natural ... out in the open with all that fresh air! (P.S There's a booked called "Speed Cleaning" - maybe for you?) :)

Argus Lou said...

Hi, Jesse. You're a sweetie for saying so. ^_^ My poor loaf pretending to be Zopf looked like it was painted over with shellac.

Kak Teh, thanks. You and your sisters are friendly and approachable people, so friendliness begets friendliness, I find.

TH, my other half would rather find a nice big tree. ;-)
And, no, I'm averse to all kinds of cleaning, speedy or not. Heh.

Life for Beginners said...

Braid bread? Bread bread? Braid braid? I am so confused... but I bet you did a wonderful job baking it! ;)

Argus Lou said...

Kenny, have you been eating too many nuts lately? And mushrooms, too, by any chance? ;-)

Lyrical Lemongrass said...

I love that toilet in the forest. Or is it a park? Certainly looks like a working one.

Your bread is lovely. I see no imperfections.

Argus Lou said...

It's not in a park. It's in a forest next to a farmer's meadow on a low mountain with lots of hikers' trails.
Thanks, sweetie!

WokandSpoon said...

Hehe - I wasn't so surprised with the toilet in the woods (these things happens) - but a toilet brush to go with it????!!!
The bread looks great but if you're worried, as my Hubs says, it doesn't matter how it looks going in, it's going to come out looking the same!

Argus Lou said...

Hi, WokandSpoon. Long time no see!
Yes, with the toilet brush, it's like the Swiss farmer/ranger is saying, "I don't mind if you use my forest toilet but please leave it spotlessly clean."
Thanks. The loaf went in looking pale and came out looking thickly brown-painted. Heh!

Life for Beginners said...

Ooh, dun remind me about them mushrooms. I miss Amsterdam so muchly. *sighs*

Jude said...

Wish I had the Swiss cleaning habits.. God knows my apartment can benefit greatly from it.

Argus Lou said...

Kenny, bet you just had an inhalation of reefer and then you fell sick for hours. ;-)

Hey, Jude! Good of you to drop by. Wish I had those good cleaning habits too; then I wouldn't have to pay a Putzfrau for it.

Kak Teh said...

argus, just tolet you know - I had the most delicious kueh cara berlauk a few nights ago and I suddenly thought of you. Wish I could post you the pictures. I told everyone not to eat yet 'cos I wanted to take the photographs.

Argus Lou said...

Wonderful, Kak Teh. ^_^ Post the pics on your blog for everyone to see. Was it nice and spicy and did the dough contain pounded dried prawns? Yum!

Salt N Turmeric said...

Soft bread Argus? im bookmariking this page. Gotta try making this myself. ;)

On the cleaning part, yeap im terrible at it too. Id rather slave myself in the kitchen than mopping the floor.

Argus Lou said...

Hi, Salt n Turmeric. This bread is not as soft as how M'sians like it or maybe I didn't let it proof long enough the second time.
Do try Mrs HBT's Hokkaido Milky Bread:

She has a link to the recipe. Good luck!

Mrs Erg├╝l said...

I'm bookmarking this!

Argus Lou said...

Hi, Mrs Erguel. Thanks for visiting. You need to be brave when adding the milk. I think I added slightly insufficient warm milk and the bread turned out not as soft as I expected but the texture was fine.

My old living-room

My old living-room
In Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

A cherished dream

A cherished dream
To live on a pale beach by a crystal clear sea. (This was taken on the east coast of Johor state, Malaysia.)